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12/3/2017 4:37:00 PM
Southern Indiana leaders: Affordable housing supply tight in region

Elizabeth Beilman, News and Tribune

NEW ALBANY — Some community leaders believe Clark and Floyd counties don't have the resources needed to meet housing demands.

It's just one of the barriers those below the median area income face in Southern Indiana that locals expressed to Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch on Friday, during a roundtable discussion at the Cardinal Ritter House in New Albany.

Among those renting outside public housing, the "vast majority" that earn below the median area income aren't living in housing that is affordable to them, according to Melissa Fry, director of the Indiana University Southeast Applied Research and Education Center

Housing is affordable when its occupants or renters pay no more than 30 percent of their income in housing costs and utilities.

"If you're earning $20,000 a year and you're paying right at 30 percent of your income in rent, that doesn't leave you a whole lot," said Fry, who presented data compiled by AREC.

Vacancy rates for rental housing in the area are somewhere between 4 and 13 percent (the margin of error is fairly wide), but Fry said surveys taken over the last 15 years indicate the rate of vacant rental units is on the low side.

In some neighborhoods, there are statistically zero vacant rental units, she said.

"If they lose their housing, there's not another place to go right away," Fry said. "This is the important thing to understand. This also means the demand for rental is really high, which means prices can remain relatively high."

Clark and Floyd counties are classified by the state as a more rural area despite being located in the Louisville Metropolitan Area, instead having to split public dollars for housing with seven other counties.

"The reality is that means we're not treated as a more urban area, a more population dense area," Fry said.

Only one program in Clark and Floyd counties receives that funding, leaders said Friday.

The community lost about half a million dollars when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cut its transitional housing funds, geared toward stabilizing and rehousing homeless people.

"These programs that lost the funding were all a piece of what was getting people of the streets and into those other options for alternative housing," Fry said.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Jeffersonville's homeless shelter Haven House, told Crouch she believes "this community is in a housing crisis."

"It's unheard of that there are no resources here," Anderson said. "I'm not sure how we can rectify that other than to make some dramatic stands on your part."

Anderson also worries local housing changes — mentioning the New Albany Housing Authority's plan to demolish hundreds of units, as well as demolition of low-income rental housing in Charlestown — may exacerbate difficulties for some.

Fry said another crucial component in housing stability is access to jobs and transportation.

Candace Brewer, New Albany Housing Authority resident, vouched that access can be an issue.

"These people are very limited on the things that are being offered them," Brewer said. "They're having to take handouts now because the opportunities to make themselves better is limited. Transportation is limited."

At the end of the discussion, Crouch told local leaders that she "[understands their] frustration."

"There's nothing worse than being in a community, wanting to help people in a community and not having the tools and the resources to do it," she said.

Crouch added she needed to look more into Southern Indiana's access to housing funding and its classification with the state as a more rural area.

"We want to help in that regard, so let me learn a little more about that particular issue and then work with you on that," she said.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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